There are nearly 2,500 games on the Illinois high school football schedule, the full scale of which was released by the IHSA on Monday morning.
And the playoff system in place, which remains free of district play (for now at least), it incorporates every one of those results in putting together its postseason field. The results of one of the smallest schools in the state could very well affect the playoff eligibility of the largest one. It is all interconnected.
Like always, there are a number of changes in the setup for this season. Due to a variety of factors, the number of playoff eligible 11-man teams in the state of Illinois has dropped to 500. There are 31 additional schools participating in football from the Chicago Public League that are not eligible for playoff participation.
That puts the number of participating 11-man football schools in the state of Illinois at 531, the lowest recorded number of programs since the first year of the IHSA-sponsored series began in 1974 (529 teams).
The largest reason for this number drop is the squads that elected to join the 8-man football ranks: Biggsville (West Central), Cuba (North Fulton), Kirkland (Hiawatha), Peoria Heights, South Beloit, Carlyle, Judah Christian, St. Thomas More, Blue Ridge, and South Fork. The 8-man football ranks grew from 16 to 24 with the additions (two other teams – Jacksonville ISD and Lake Forest Academy – dropped football for this season). 8-man broke into two regions (north and south) for this season.
Those teams coupled with a merger of three schools (Rich South, Rich East and Rich Central) into one program (Rich Township) and the closure of Guerin Prep at the conclusion of the 2020 school year, left many conferences scrambling to fill their conference schedules.
As such, several conferences dipped below the required membership to earn automatic conference bids for its champion. The Prairieland Conference elected to go with two five-team divisions in lieu of one 10-team league, as such neither will receive automatic bids for its conference winner. The Prairie State Conference also dropped below the required six members needed for an automatic bid for a conference winner.
The Illini Prairie dropped from a 10-team league to a nine-team grouping (Paxton-Buckley-Loda will restore the league to a 10-team closed conference in 2021) with each team playing one nonconference game over the course of the season.
The Chicago Public League also changed the construction of which teams would be eligible for the playoffs and which would not. The eight new schools that are joining the playoff eligible ranks are Noble/Gary Comer, Noble/ITW Speer, Noble/Bulls Prep, Noble/Johnson, Kennedy, Juarez, Catalyst Maria and Bogan.
Teams dropping down to the leagues ineligible for playoff consideration are Phoenix, Clemente, Marine, Marshall, South Shore, Collins, North Lawndale College Prep, Military Bronzeville.
Several schools were unable to fill all of their nine scheduled dates. Those schools are Montini (Week 2), Thornton (Week 2), Julian (Week 2), Ridgewood (Week 3), Madison (Weeks 5 and Week 6), Thornridge (Week 7) and Aurora Central Catholic (Week 9).
Of that grouping, Thornton, Ridgewood, Thornridge and Aurora Central Catholic would likely receive forfeit victories as previously scheduled games were either affected by a school closure or a consolidation.
Sixty games against out-of-state opponents are currently scheduled by Illinois teams (although all aren't showing up on the IHSA website as of yet). Illinois teams are currently slated to play teams from Missouri (27 games), Indiana (14), Wisconsin (6), Iowa (5), Ohio (3), Michigan (2), California (1), Florida (1) and Kentucky (1).